With 17 potential pitchers led by seniors Derek Varnadore, Jon Luke Jacobs, Cory Luckie, Zach Blatt, Ethan Wallen and Justin Bryant, Coach John Pawlowski has a large group of veterans to lean on as the Tigers open the season Feb. 17 against Missouri.
That group has combined for 30 wins at Auburn and will should give the Tigers a solid foundation in 2012, but just how far the team will go may depend on how much help the Tigers get from a group of newcomers on the mound. With 6-6, left-hander Daniel Koger one of the players who will be counted on to help immediately, Pawlowski says the Tigers are getting closer to finding a rotation to start the year.
"We've really tried to put a lot of emphasis on that pitching staff," Pawlowski tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "I feel very good about things. Derek Varnadore sat out the fall and continued to work on rehab and building his arm strength back up. He had a lot of innings for us last year and we're fortunate to get him back. With him and Slade Smith and Jon Luke Jacobs and freshman Daniel Koger, we have four guys in there that we're leaning towards and are fighting for that opening weekend."
Another returning veteran, Smith has a 6-2 record in two seasons for the Tigers and has the ability to help the Tigers as a starter or in relief. It's that kind of versatility that Pawlowski is looking for from several of the newcomers, including Rocky McCord from Spanish Fort and Trey Cochran-Gill from Tallassee.
Last season the Tigers lost six midweek games and it cost them a chance for an NCAA Tournament bid. Pawlowski says the increased depth should only help his team in those games this season.
"I think it's important, especially early for us," Pawlowski notes. "We've got four mid-week games in the first two weeks of the season. What it will allow us to do is try to sort out who we think has the possibility of being one of those guys for the mid-week. Ultimately if they throw well in those games they'll have the option to move into the weekend or pitch on the weekend."
Coach John Pawlowski's Tigers will face eight teams ranked in the preseason Top 25.
As a team Auburn hit just 39 home runs last season and the players who were responsible for 34 of those are gone, leaving just Creede Simpson (3), Cullen Wacker (1) and Zach Alvord (1) as Tigers who are back with a homer. Because of that, and an increased emphasis on speed, this year's team may not reach last year's total of homers or even come close to it, but Pawlowski says his players have focused on becoming better defensively and more aggressive on the base paths. He is looking forward to seeing that pay off in 2012.
"We don't know what this team is going to look like yet," the coach says. "We are anxious to see things because of the talent level and athleticism of this team. We're excited of what we have. We just have to see how all these pieces fit together and what level they can play at early in the season."